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Prepare ye the way of the Lord- into Cyberspace!!

Members of General Synod have begun reporting back to the Deaneries which recently elected them. This is an important part of their function, for if the governing body of the Anglican Church in Britain is seeking to re-ignite mission ( which it does ) it will only succeed if it carries with it the ordinary folk in the pews.

Such a project requires listening and accountability across all levels of the Church, especially in the case of the House of Laity. Nothing will assist this better than the widespread use of technology and this will be the focus of this piece.

The Church is about to undertake a programme of “Reform and Renewal” sometimes called “Renewal and Reform”. It matters to some how that is expressed!

General Synod had many new members who were brought up to speed by the inspirational Canon John Spence during the induction day. The following day we heard more about the component parts of the programme by other major contributors after the Synod. That presentation can be found here https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=c2J0BBPe_6o

There is one aspect of the process which appears to be somewhat under appreciated despite having been obliquely demonstrated before the Synod even began. The #JustPray furore had rocketed the Church into the National Headlines for the first time for some years, at least in respect of a story that did not involve sexuality or sexual abuse. The importance of this can be tested by you now, please “google” “Church of England” now and then press the video tab – but do come back!

You will see that our Prayer video is all over cyberspace. Short form video interrupts a busy world all the time in the fast moving world of digital social media, but offer a well produced moment to invite prayer and half a million people join in, within a 24 hour period.

At the July Synod, concerned at the poor presence of social media missional outreach in the Church Brother Ivo had been critical of the Church. In response a dialogue began at which our Director of Communications Arun Arora shared some of his thinking; in response Brother Ivo sent in detailed proposals informed by family members involved in the Digital Media at a senior level.

It soon became apparent that independently, the Church task force and a sympathetic outside critic were of almost identical mind. The details of difference were on a narrow area of technicality – important, but not fundamental.

When Canon Spence alluded to developments about to be considered by Archbishop’s Council and -God Willing -signed off for implementation in the New Year, the revolutionary possibilities for evangelisation in the country, especially amongst the young, may not have been apparent, but potentially this could be the most long lasting initiative of the whole package.

Join a strategic discussion group anywhere in the Church and it will not be long before they are considering the question “Where are the young people? The answer is, of course, “online”. A Church that is not missionally engaged with the most powerful communications media ever, is asleep at the wheel.

That this is the place to encounter the unchurched young is obvious.

There are two important advantages to prioritising social media. It is relatively cheap to outreach to vast numbers of people quickly. You get a lot of bang for your bucks. More importantly, our outreach is ” unmediated” ie, you do not need anybody else’s permission. Canon Spence underlined how the Christian narrative is being deliberately written out of popular a culture. He illustrated it with reference to the popular television programme Downton Abbey. Not a single house of that character in Edwardian times would have failed to start and finish the day upstairs and downstairs, with prayer. When challenged upon that absence, the makers stated that such references were not thought “relevant”. Plainly no drama needed to linger long on Mr Carson reading Morning Prayer to the servants, but a few passing references would have permitted appropriate historical authenticity.

That it was resisted, tells us what we need to know about how far Antonio Gramsci’s plans for “cultural hegemony” have infiltrated the media classes.

When the Communications office presently has a story, they first have to interest and persuade a small cadre of BBC ITV or Sky staff, maybe some newspaper editors. If they only want stories on sexuality, that is all that the public hears.

The #JustPray initiative could have been killed by the handful of executives who control access to cinema screens. What they had not counted upon was the power of Social Media. The people wanted to see the video and they shared it with their friends.

This is a prime example of the benefits of social media outreach; the Gospel will not be silenced. Like water, it will find a way through.

Synod was also told that at present, the demographic profile of the Church is 20 years older than the general population. This buzzy world of blogs apps and Vlogs seems terribly daunting but its underlying thought is very biblical . Jesus recruited followers who found followers. He gave them mental images – of sowers, rebellious children, and victims of muggers- and these are still with us .

When Paul wrote, his letters were copied and shared: they have cascaded down the centuries and across continents. The difference is that what once took months now takes only seconds. Brother Ivo can communicate with thousands of people in a day. More successful bloggers like the much admired Digitalnun and Archbishop Cranmer are even more effective.

If the Church can engage each and everyone of its members active in the social media to post on Facebook or Twitter, the impact would be swift and effective.

In a complementary initiative the Church Army launched an initiative of their own offering a first rate teaching aid to Churches, designed to enable ordinary people to talk with others about that faith. That many of us have a lack of confidence about such conversations was underlined by no less a figure than Archbishop Justin who confessed his own horror of participating in his Church’s weeks of Evangelism before he was ordained! It is worth looking at this splendid resource at www.faithpictures.org.

The video offered there may illustrate the value of this kind of story based video. It is designed to spearhead re-evangelisation by normalising conversations about Jesus and the life of faith.

This may seem strange to older Christians. It is not . It is highly scriptural.

After the resurrection some of the demoralised disciples returned to their fishing. They were unsuccessful until a figure instructed them to fish on the other side of the boat. When they did, the catch was so successful that they could barely handle the bounty. What had Jesus commanded?

Better use of the net!!!

This is not a trite point. In digital marketing terms, Jesus was offering better data from which to target their efforts. That passage may explain why it was that the early Church was willing to deploy its efforts, sending their greatest assets – the Apostles – all over the world rather than “circling the wagons” and becoming defensive and inward looking.

This aspect of Reform and Renewal is entirely congruent with that example.

It will not be long before serious money effort and resource will be applied into this vital area of mission. For it to yield success we shall need as many Christians as possible to seek and share the accessible material with everyone with whom they are in contact.

We are approaching Advent when we are called to ” prepare the way of The Lord”. Getting ready to become cyber-evangelists is a major part of this. Aslan is on the March.

St Jerome and “Bible Believing”

 

Today we commemorate St Jerome , one of the four Fathers of the Church, who first translated and collated the “library” of books into what  we now call the Vulgate Bible. He also wrote a number of commentaries, many of which were addressed to holy women of his time.

He is frequently depicted in Rennaisance art wearing a large red cardinal’s hat – quite ahistorically – perhaps as a way of promoting the reading of his Latin translation rather than those of the modern vernacular, which the Protestant reformers favoured. He is also frequently accompanied, more or less artistically successfully, by a pet lion, his story perhaps embellished with that of Androclese and the lion: no matter, his life and achievement are real, and we might usefully reflect that his world changing work emerged from the Syrian desert in which he had spent much time in preparatory meditation.

Given such a plainly Catholic identity, he is a figure of Christian unity, being revered by several church traditions, not least the Anglican Community, the Eastern Orthodox, and the Lutheran Churches.

His work is often taken, paradoxically, by a less Catholic tradition, that of those who are less open to Church tradition and perhaps even the Holy Spirit.

In the elections to the Anglican General Synod, there will be some offering a shorthand term ” Bible believing” for their basket of policy positions. Brother Ivo is always puzzled by the term. What about the rest of us? What are we? Is everyone else somehow not “Bible believing” if those positions are questioned or challenged?

No Christian can be uninspired by the record of God’s interaction with the world. We do, of course, have a few minor variants in our collections of  books admitted to biblical authority. Not all include the Apocrypha or the Books of Wisdom.

Having a slightly innovative if not provocative nature, Brother Ivo has struggled to find a term for those of us who approach scripture from a less rigid, Protestant fundamentalist position. He has no wish to deny the huge debt we owe to St Jerome, or suggest in any way that reading the Bible is in any way an optional extra for the Christian.

Nevertheless, he does like to remind his friends of the “Bible Believing” constituency, that for the first three hundred years of the faith there was no Bible. Indeed there are many fine Christians today who have, as yet, no complete Bible because the speak languages or dialects where the scholarship is incomplete. What are they ? Are they “Bible Believing”?- how can they be if they have an incomplete Canon? Does it even matter?

What too, of those with other incomplete opportunities to engage fully with St Jerome’s legacy, the illiterate or the learning disabled?

Brother Ivo notes that when St Luke records  Jesus commissioned the 72 to begin the spreading of the word, he insisted they travel light. It is striking that he does not require them to carry  any scriptures. It may be that the Hebrew Scriptures would lie  ahead of them – though not in the households in which they were to stay.

Some of the 72 might have committed passages to memory, they may have known the Psalms as we recall favourite hymns, yet none of these recollections of past written record would include the terms of the new Gospel,  most if which were not yet reduced to writing.

What is interesting is not how much,  but how little these ” Non Bible Believing” Christians had by way of materials. We can only speculate, yet surely their aide memoirs would include some of the more striking parables, maybe the beatitudes, a few healing miracle narratives, the Lord’s Prayer. It is, of course a guess, but Brother Ivo senses that the repertoire of teaching stories available to those early oral evangelists would probably have numbered between a dozen and twenty episodes from what we now call the Gospels. Many of our schoolchildren know as much.

It is not a question of  “how much” built the early Church but “how little”. Yet built it was.

During the local General Synod Election hustings a young person asked candidates for a single word that encapsulated what young people were looking for, if they are to take the Church seriously.

The word he was looking for was “Passion”.

The early evangelists must surely have had convincing passion to supplement their paucity of materials. Maybe St Jerome’s Bible was needed as that passion dimmed.

As he has searched for a term for those, then and now, who respect the Scriptures but feel the need for more than literalism to reconnect with those early story-based, passion-filled evangelists, Brother Ivo has come up with a  term;  “Gospel Gracious”.

Surely that is what Christ calls us to be, making much out of the little we know and understand , but infusing it with love and applying it to our neighbours. If we are imperfect in our quoting of “Chapter and Verse” Brother Ivo feels sure he will forgive us.

But let us not end there. St Jerome gave us much and we should celebrate it.

Here is a prayer to do so.

O God, who gave the Priest Saint Jerome a living and tender love for Sacred Scripture, grant that your people may be ever more fruitfully nourished by your Word and find in it the fount of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Did Dr Carson really say the “un-sayable” about Islam?

Brother Ivo has been impressed by the candidacy of Dr Ben Carson for the US Presidency.

He captures the mood of those in many countries,  who are inclined to choose leaders from outside the professional political class. Dr Carson was an undoubted world class neuro-surgeon with a wonderful backstory of fulfilling the American dream; he rose from deprivation within the poorest most excluded community, to a position of eminence.

Unlike the other front running outsider, Donald Trump, he brings thoughtful politeness to the debate. He is not frightened to speak his mind yet there is no brashness or combativeness; in many ways he is a breath of fresh air.

When he refers to his own career, it is with a quiet gentle humour. Often he uses it to illustrate the opportunities which the American system affords to all. He has the ability to unite people of goodwill which is why he is so feared by many opponents. Hitherto his approval ratings amongst supporters and opponents alike have been very positive.

This may be why his remarks about a potential Muslim President have been taken up with such outrage by a media that is traditionally inclined towards the Democratic Party.

Is it justified?

Dr Carson has not denied the right of anyone to submit themselves for election under the Constitution, neither has he denied the right of the electorate to vote for them. He is simply questioning whether an adherent of one set of beliefs is consistent with his own  view of what America embodies.

Every Presidential election is a clash of value systems, of which secular atheism, Christianity, and Islam, with its blend of spiritual belief and political and social expression thereof, are but three examples.

Is it so outrageous to say that one who follows Islam, might attract special consideration for suitability to follow a Constitution informed by the values of 17th century European Christianity, rather than 7th century Arabic theology?

As the furore is reported by the media it is worth underlining that Dr Carson was not completely dismissive of voting for a Muslim. “And, you know, if there’s somebody who’s of any faith, but they say things, and their life has been consistent with things that will elevate this nation and make it possible for everybody to succeed, and bring peace and harmony, then I’m with them”. That does not sound like bigotry to Brother Ivo.

Dr Carson has no problem with Muslim Senators or Congressmen, but rightly identifies the Presidential role as highly specific and iconic.

Is that not what many are alluding to, when they question if a candidate who is “Pro-life” or a creationist is fit for office in the 21st century? How suitable will Dr Carson’s critics on this issue, find an orthodox Muslim’s attitude to gay marriage?

Every candidate will have a basket of values. Most who are not anodyne will be scrutinised,  and some will have core beliefs that render them more or less electable. America has traditionally judged socialists and pacifists as unsuitable. That may change, but styling either as unattractive is both normal and uncontroversial.

Islam is a complete package; unlike secular society, it has no concept of a “private sphere” of behaviour. It has a perfect lawful right to express itself constrained by the law both in the UK and the USA. Whether an adherent of one of the forms of Islam, Mormanism. or one of the many strands of Christianity for that matter – is a good fit for the requirements of a Constitutional Office is a perfectly reasonable examination to undertake.

Dr Carson should not be vilified for doing so in his typically thoughtful and proportionate fashion.

Our first response to David Cameron’s migrant problem should be prayer

Brother Ivo never wanted George W Bush to become President of the United States.

Like many in the UK. he had fallen for by Bill Clinton’s beguiling southern charm and was deceived by his wife’s assurances that the rumours of their lying about Bill’s extra marital affairs, whilst trashing the reputation of the women who told the truth, were nothing but a “vast right wing conspiracy”.

He was also persuaded that Al Gore was the “smartest man in the room” although it subsequently transpired that his University examination results were significantly worse than those of the younger Bush; that was not widely known then and is hardly common knowledge now.

Brother Ivo confesses he went with the “stupid President” theme until that fateful day when the 9/11 bombers struck and he saw the enormity of the situation beginning to etch itself on the face of the jovial man who had expected his time in the White House to be primarily concerned with a domestic agenda.

He watched as “Dubya” climbed over the rubble with a loud speaker to address the responding police and firemen, reassuring a shaken nation and promising to respond to the outrage. Brother Ivo recalls how many people at the time were saying that it would inevitably happen again and that nobody could stop another such an outrage if the enemy were prepared to kill themselves in that fashion.

During the bewildering period when America was under attack, the security services took the President into the air and kept his whereabouts unknown until the fog of war had cleared. It was not long before that was criticised.

The President did respond and 9/11 has not been replicated; he did keep America safe from that kind of attack, although the aftermath is with us still. That is not however the point of this post.

Looking upon the shaken President during those days and his efforts to reassure, restore confidence and fulfill his duties, Brother Ivo could not do anything but put his opinion aside and begin praying for him in such a time of trial.

It is surprising how praying for someone softens one’s approach to them.

From that point, Brother Ivo came to dislike the easy insult, the ill-informed statement, the unfair casual assumption.

Brother Ivo is somewhat counter cultural and it amuses him to watch folk’s reaction when he mildly resists an opinion which has been reinforced by every BBC “comedy” programme for ten years.

When appropriate, Brother Ivo points to the remarkable PEPFAR initiative of President Bush, a much under appreciated humanitarian initiative which has been transformative for AIDS victims in Southern Africa.

It is very easy for us to stay with our prejudices about people. Political figures do invite examination, indeed scrutiny is a vital component of democracy, and yet when a massive and potentially intractable problem presents itself, it is worth thinking about the terrible weight of responsibility that falls on those we elect and to be more understanding.

David Cameron had little inkling of what was about to unfold in the Middle East when he won his election last May. In its way, this problem is as complex and worrying as that which presented itself to George W Bush on 9/11.

One does not have to be a supporter of this Government to ask whether the instant attacks that the Prime Minister is “not doing enough” might be a bit facile. How much is “enough”? Wouldn’t “a bit more” always be better?

Those accusing him of indifference or callous delay might also pause and reflect.

The implications of the Middle Eastern Wars are huge, long lasting and, almost certainly, currently unpredictable. The consequences of massive immigration from those troubled regions will be long lasting. Whatever is done will almost certainly be less than perfect, and yet the weight of responsibility must be intense and scarcely bearable.

Of course the Prime Minister must be held to account – he asked for the responsibility – but that ought not to prevent us from recognising that what we expect of our leaders in circumstances such as these, is probably more than any of them can deliver.

In truth, most of us are like needy children asking a parent to simply “make it go away”.

In such circumstances our own personal and best response should perhaps begin with the words “ Our Father…”

Does ” Boiling Frog Syndrome” apply to the “Migrant Crisis”

How are we to think clearly about the problems presented to us by migration?

Can we be best directed by our feelings?

Our feelings might be – should be –  instinctively sympathetic for those who have been displaced, but there will be others feeling a fear of the unknown , concerned if an indeterminate number of people with different backgrounds histories and values seek refuge amongst us.

Maybe we are better to bring cold hearted logic to bear if a solution is to be reached with the necessary swiftness?

But is it is a cerebral matter only? Should we try to to work out optimal numbers, calculating our economic costs or gains?  Is that even possible in a plural democracy where there will be many views? It certainly cannot be done quickly. It thus falls to a worried Government to make a decision how to respond quickly to that dreadful picture of a drowned toddler on a beach.

Rarely will a Prime Minister have better understood Harold Macmillan’s summation of the Prime Ministerial nightmare ” Events, dear boy, events”

There will be some who will see the opportunity for political advantage, either to brand the Prime Minister an unfeeling brute or to bolster their argument against the EU. We may try to resist getting sucked too far into those areas if we are true to the mission of trying to reach a practical solution that does not affront our values, but few will succeed. Each and every decision will bleed political consequence into the body politic,

Brother Ivo ‘s abiding sense, as the various dimensions and complexities of the problem unfolds is simple, though not immediately practical. If you or I feel totally comfortable with our position in this dreadful crisis, we are probably not thinking hard enough.

It is a good discipline for us all to go to the position in the debate where we feel least comfortable and ask ourselves ” Where is there merit in this quarter of the discussion?” The more Brother Ivo has turned the issues over in his mind,  the more he has come to appreciate that this is one where most “sides” have a point. This is always the worst kind of dispute to be embroiled in; the worst civil wars occur where there is indeed a degree of merit on both sides.

So today Brother Ivo will challenge the instincts of perhaps  a majority in his Church whose instinct is dismiss fears about migration, and its consequences.

In an attempt to find a way of thinking clearly on the subject, Brother Ivo turned briefly to a rather obscure Harvard academic Wesley Newcombe Hohfeld whose work attempted to encourage a careful definition of concepts for use in legal analysis so that we do not confuse the argument with imprecision. He developed his language tools for use in civil disputes but as will be seen, they may assist in carrying our thinking when discussing immigration and the related Human Rights issues.

In a nutshell, Hohfeld identified that there are always two sides to a legal relationship which he called “correlatives” If one person has a legal right somebody else must have a  corresponding duty. He went further and identified four distinct pairs of necessary relationship,

So we have :-

Right – Duty

Privilege – No Right

Power – disability

Immunity – Liability.

To discuss a matter in Hohfeldian terms, you keep within those language rules; this is especially the case when considering “privilege” which is purely used in an analytical sense and has no class or wealth connotation. If you cannot clear your mind of other preconceptions about these words – stop reading now,

Looking at the migration issue through such a lens we begin to see more clearly where the current problems – and resentments arise.

In Hofeldian terms  British Citizenship  conferred  a “privilege”. If you were born here, nobody had any right to deny it to you. We legislated for others to petition to enjoy that “privilege” , by citizenship application or marriage; the “powers that be” had an absolute discretion to grant or withhold the privilege . Those petitioning were under disability; they might have a right to be considered, and the State might have a duty to consider the application, but it was the State alone which had the arbitrary legal “power”  to reject,  and a failed applicant was under “disability” in terms of challenging the discretion,

Within such a legal environment, the Executive, guided by the Legislature, would have enjoyed uncomplicated discretion in cases such as the present immigration crisis.

Provided the electorate approved, the Government could have been as mean or as generous as it wished with a true sense of control over the problem. The numbers who entered the country and the character thereof was a decision for the UK and above all for its peoples. Those peoples have been historically very welcoming and generous as Kenan Malik has written about here .

Yet we are not in the same age when such generosity was exercised, we are now in the world of the EU, and the Human Rights Act, and that makes a huge difference in terms of how confidently and quickly the Prime Minister feels able to act.

As Nigel Farage constantly points out – perfectly accurately – the Prime Minister is no longer in charge of the borders. The ( Hohfeldian ) “privilege” of the right of residence has been greatly extended, it has certainly been ceed to every person within the European Union – hundreds of millions of people.

Some hundreds of thousands have  already  exercised their “privilege”. We may not be accustomed to using the word in that context but it is le mot juste.

The UK is currently attractive to our EU neighbours because its language is the second language of many, its economy is thriving, it society diverse and welcoming; there is stability and residents enjoy a higher degree of welfare than many in the EU. A welfare claim is also a “legal privilege” – the Government has “no right” to withhold it from anyone within the extended class of those “privileged” in this way. There is the current irony that David Cameron has created more jobs for the French than Francois Holland.

There is currently no lawful mechanism for removing or restricting the privilege currently enjoyed by all EU residents.

Yet that “privilege” in not limited to those born or currently residing within the EU.

As Douglas Carswell  has written, anyone currently admitted by any of the member states to residence, automatically joins the numbers of those with a potential claim on the British State and economy. What he does not add is that any dependants  subsequently passported to residence, via s 8 of the Human Rights Act ” Right to Family Life”, must also be afforded the same status. If a newly arrived resident has a significant family tie. there is a duty to respect it. How many may subsequently claim that right is both unknown and unknowable, so people worry.

The class of those entitled to insist upon the privilege of residence was further extended under both the asylum and refugee conventions of the UN and Article 2 of the Human Rights Convention to anyone from a war zone,

Through those legally enforceable rights, the class of those who are “immune” from British Government control, and can make the British Government and taxpayer “liable” for their welfare is equally unknown and unknowable.

Every person who can reach the UK from a country where an oppressive Government infringes Human Rights has the “right” to claim asylum and the Government has a “duty” to grant it. Legal Aid must be afforded those whom it challenges because the right under dispute is an “absolute” one and access to the Courts must be resourced.

An “asylum seeker” has a well founded fear of his or her own Government. It encompasses persecution by reason of race, religion, nationality, political belief or membership of any political group. Sadly, the numbers of those afflicted is not in short supply,

A refugee is an asylum seeker who has fled his or her homeland through unrest civil war or natural disaster . a useful exploration of the definitions and all too frequent confusions,  by Mr Harry Mitchell QC is to be found here .

It does not take much reflection to appreciate that the class of those who are or maybe entitled to the privilege of UK residence and the ancillary rights and entitlements that go with it is vast. It certainly encompasses not only all 4 million Syrian refugees but also every gay person in Uganda, Pakistan, Iran ( to name but a few), every atheist in a Muslim State  and every woman at risk of sexual violence from Boko Haram or Islamic State. It encompasses many citizens of countries which sit on the UN Human Rights panel which only goes to prove that satire is not dead.

We may want – and choose-  to help every one who arrives; we are a generous people as the response to the single picture of the drowned Syrian child testifies. yet it is rather disingenuous to pretend that those who worry about numbers do not have a point.

That point primarily arises out of the legal context in which these crises arise which makes it different from virtually every other mass movement that preceded it.

When Huguenot, Irish and Jewish and Commonwealth migrations occurred in previous centuries, there was not the same context of enforceable “rights”,” privileges” “immunities” etc – nor indeed was there a welfare State of such attraction to the migrant choosing where to go. There was not the means by which the attractions of the UK were so graphically and instantly available.

This context matters when comparing the current situation with the past. If the Government appears to hesitate before acting, given the enormity of the problem and consequences of getting it wrong, Brother Ivo will be slow to criticise.

In the context of  the General Synod Climate Change debate, much weight was attached to “boiling frog syndrome” : we were told that “by the time you recognise the severity of the problem it is too late to do anything about it”.

One is bound to enquire whether the same principle applies, uncomfortably, in this debate.

The culture, attitudes, values, and institutions  of the United Kingdom have evolved over centuries. Despite many disagreements between us, we have a modus vivendi which many in the world find either attractive or at least convenient to enjoy. It has not proved as easy to replicate in other cultures as enlightened rationalists once assumed it would be.

Our current legal structures mean that we afford equal protection to the scarred woman fleeing an acid attack, the persecuted Christian, the gay African – and many who are in sympathy with the perpetrators of such persecution. We have amongst us those who perpetrated genocide, resisting exclusion because they might face the death penalty. We have advocates of the the values and systems that caused the crises ready to add such diversity to our public life.

We may decide that is a price worth paying, but it is hard to think that the debate about it is not worth having.

At the very least, it may be appropriate to introduce into our public considerations the notion that this current crisis might cause us to reconsider whether our legal structures are fit for the purpose of maintaining Britain as a place of welcome and refuge. Remember the frog.

 

 

 

The Devil’s Advocate speaks on General Synod’s Climate Change Debate

In 1979 Brother Ivo joined the then Ecology party: standing for it  in a General Election; he chaired  chaired the Conference debate when it changed its name to the Green Party.

You may therefore be surprised to hear, that he feels compelled  to act as Devil’s advocate, to remind General Synod that  there is an alternative if unfashionable case and to urge all to approach these matters with extreme caution and critical analysis.

He left the Green Party when I realised two things. First that it was turning from away from a primary purpose of preserving the environment, towards leading the anti capitalism narrative.

When Marxist modes of thought failed in one incarnation, they were reinvented within Green politics; same meat different gravy. Danny the Red became Danny the Green and there remains, incidentally, a significant anti-Christian strand within the Green movement.

Second, he had reached the conclusion that if the Nobel Prize Committe ever decided to make an award for failed apocalyptic warnings, the Green Movement would win it – every year – by a country mile.

Let us consider a little history

Brother Ivo and the Green Movement of the 1980’s predicted life in 2015

Oil reserves will have run out, we used to say.
The carbon based economies of the world will be in ruin in consequence
The rising world population cannot be sustained, beyond 6 billion: food prices will rocket and famine will rapidly increase
By 2015 we will have extracted all the known reserves of raw materials -not only oil – but gold silver tin nickel copper etc

In short, we proclaimed that if you rejected Green policies then, human life was going to be impossible by 2015.

Each prediction was advanced with precisely the same earnestness which we hear today about climate change, and each enjoyed the same levels of referenced scientific data and significant expert authority.

” Unfortunately” – in the last 30 years – that pesky capitalism .. which we despised – has enabled more people, to live longer and better lives ; humanity is better fed, better medicated than ever before. Infant mortality has reduced , worldwide literacy rates are advancing. The Gates Foundation is doing great work combatting Malaria in Africa and Aids is being reduced thanks to the US PEPFAR initiative.

By every rational metric measuring human welfare, the world is living in better times. Despite the world population continuing to increase, the % of people living in absolute poverty has reduced from 53% of the world’s population in 1981 to just 17 % today . Far too many – and a long way to go – but a remarkable statistic. How did this turnabout happen?

It is thanks to The Free market – built on cheap energy

Contrary to Green expectation Energy reserves continue to be found: when coupled with clever ways of extracting, at previously uneconomic levels, we now have about 400 years of energy reserves, buying us the necessary time in which to perfect alternatives to the carbon economy, none of which are currently viable without subsidy; those green subsidies, are of course, totally dependent upon the carbon based economy. Without the carbon economy and nuclear power energy prices go through the solar panels on the roof.

Let’s flag up flag up some paradoxes.

For all the handwringing over carbon emissions, Carbon free nuclear energy remains viscerally opposed by green activists.

Low carbon shale gas , developed by those which General Synod invited to reject , is also capable of delivering safe,secure, long term cleaner energy. Because shale gas is so economic, all other energy prices are driven and held down.

Unlike many renewables, this truly offers affordable energy for the poor. It is also less destructive of habitat than some of the vast floodings required by the hydro electric schemes such as those of of Brazil & Southern China. There is no green energy/ecological free lunch.

The strenuous and irrational opposition to such cleaner energy amongst a movement, which – incidentally also vigorously opposed the closing the the coal mines- tells you that there is more going on here than pure non-political concern for God’s creation.

Show me a country with cheap and abundent energy and I will show you a country lifting the poor from misery . Except Venezuela, the country with the largest oil reserves in the world -which thanks to anti-capitalism is now an economic basket case with widespread and wholly unnecessary privation.

May General Synod hold that thought in mind.

What we will be debating may not Green energy TO help the poor, but rather the choice “Green energy OR help the poor.” Put that way the moral choice is not so clear or comfortable.

One wishes the theological material representatives have been offered to reflect upon,  included the Exodus passage on the tyranny of being required to make bricks without straw.

Human material welfare occurs where there are three factors in play; 1 The growth of functional democracy with accountable government. 2 free markets. 3 Cheap energy

Evidence based thinking in this debate has to have regard to this history even when it points to such inconvenient truths

Given the predictive failure of the Green Movement of which Brother Ivo was part, you will appreciate why he now says – beware those whose predictions are “beyond question”

In 2001 a group of scientists identified the problem

“In Climate Change research and modelling we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non linear chaotic system & therefore that long term prediction of future climate States is not possible”

Who issued that warning about overstating the predictive capacity of science? … Well, it was the International Panel on Climate Change in its 2001 report at p774.

They were right : for the past 18 years there has been no rise in temperature, confounding their predictions. No model or theory explains this.

When St Mark posed the question ” Who is it that has the authority to still the storm?” (change the weather) Brother Ivo does not  think he had in mind answer “the International Panel on Climate Change!”

We know that if you compare the computer modelling of the climate change lobby against the real time date when it is known, – there is no correlation.

In these circumstances, responsible scepticism is not some moral failure or idiosyncratic character flaw, but rather a necessary duty of the intellectually robust.

The exclamation ” but … but .. expert opinion” needs to be tempered by an historic regard to a lengthy history of expert predictive failure.

As we contrast practical successes of the Free Market in actually advancing human welfare with the failures of those who often wish it ill As General Synod reflects upon those figures of more people fed despite rising numbers, more lifted from poverty, does it not have to ask itself .

“Is this the time to kill the goose that lays the golden egg?”
The final point is this .

If Synod pass a motion to disinvest one of two things will happen. Either it will be ineffective and prove nothing more than ‘gesture politics’ which never brings credit to anyone.

Alternatively it will achieve its objective.

Others will be inspired follow the Anglican Church’s lead and the western carbon based economy will rapidly crumble. We do not actually have any viable replacements in many spheres. The battery of the Nissan Leaf cannot fetch Synod members from London to York let alone carry all those delegates by air to the next Climate Change jamboree in Paris

The share prices of BP, & Shell – which incidentally pays 8% of UK pensions, will collapse thanks to our far sightedness, but the good news is they will be bought up -along with their drilling rights and technical expertise- by Russian oligarchs, Middle Eastern Soverign Wealth Funds and Chinese Billionnaires. They will not leave the oil in the ground but will then enjoy the monopolists privilege of setting the worldwide price of energy. They could drive renewable energy out of business by predatory pricing. Where would we be then?

Despite an acknowledged  appalling record as a former green futurologist, Brother Ivo is prepared to hazard one final modest prediction if such a policy secured its objectives.

It will not turn out well.

When Judges and Bishops “rebel”

Sir Nicholas Creighton is not a politician, neither is he a bishop. Brother Ivo does not know if he is a Christian, but as he discharges his duties as a District Judge in the specialist Drug and Alcohol Family Court in London, he demonstrates much that is similar in approach to that of the Anglicans Bishops whose recently published pastoral letter urges a fresh approach upon those about to contest the general election.

If you do not know about Sir Nicholas’ innovative work in resolving intractable family problems you can read about it here. http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/family-drug-and-alcohol-court-breaking-the-habit/5041570.fullarticle

In a nutshell the Court which he has created in a pilot scheme, targets the most complex and intractable of cases where parents have failed their children through misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Many of the parents will have been brought up by neglectful cruel or incompetent parents themselves, so the problems are compounded by emotional issues which would be difficult enough to resolve as stand alone problems, even before substance abuse and inevitable poverty potentiated the difficulties.

These “families” are characterised by lack of routine, multiple relationships, and state dependency, and having been neglected or actively subverted by societal messaging that drug use and single parenthood is perfectly capable of delivering ” good enough” parenting.

Such parents are shocked when State and its agents suddenly turn from being indulgent provider to aggressive accuser, giving such fragile parents just 6 months to turn around the habits of a lifetime,  with the penalty of losing their children forever should they be incapable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Sir Nicholas identifies the problem succinctly.

“A system that goes on removing children because of drug and alcohol issues, but does nothing about the core problem, is a ‘failing system’, he adds: ‘We know from experience that a mother who has a child removed deliberately goes out to get pregnant again because it is the only way she can heal the wound of the loss.’

They inevitably return , they cannot heal themselves : “if they knew better, they’d do better”.

These are people with tragic lives, often the product of poor decisions – many their own. Whilst we are enjoined not to be judgemental, they have almost invariably failed to follow the very simple basic rules for avoiding poverty, and family chaos.

1) Don’t drop out of school
2) Don’t have children under 21 years
3) Get married before having children
4) Don’t engage in substance abuse

Our societal failure to promulgate these simple basic rules is at the heart of many of tragedies that arrive in the family courts. Our Bishops could help in this regard but rarely do so with clarity.

Sir Nicholas  tired of seeing the pain of families being administered into heartbreaking separation, and of his part in letting it happen. Having seen the value of joined up thinking in the Courts of Santa Barbara California, he started a bold initiative to do things better in London. He convinced Government Departments and Local Authorities to give him enough free rein and funding – “peanuts” – to do things differently,

When Court proceedings are started, parents are brought to him quickly. He sets out a programme in consultation with independent social workers, therapists, child and adult psychiatrists, substance abuse experts and a clinical nurse. He talks plainly, offering failing parents a promise of a fair chance and real support in return for determined engagement and total honesty. If the parents agree, they enter a programme of intensive change, support and regular drug testing.

It is not perfect, it has many failures when even these efforts cannot rescue parents from deep habits and emotional fragility. The project has, however, markedly improved the prospects of success for families staying together- and when this happens the case ends with congratulations and applause for all the hard work – led by the Judge.

So what has this to do with our Bishop’s pastoral letter enjoining politicians to change their modus operandi?

The Judge, like the Bishops, recognised that standing imperiously above the process and passing judgement, was not enough. To achieve what was needed required him to re-define his role. Our Bishops seem of similar mind.

He engages the failing families with direct and refreshing honesty. One might say that he engages them with equality, and refreshing respect: he does not condescend or dissemble. He put the challenge bluntly, offered a hand up, but does not shirk from making a tough decision when the primary interest of the children required it.

He sees that the common good – of the families and the wider community – have a mutual interest in investing time effort and resources  to reverse the cycle of failure, which frequently cascades down through the generations.

He plainly believes that the failed families before him were worth the effort of redemption.

He recognises that the people he has spend years judging have a culture of failure; it is not, as our politically correct friends would have us believe, an equally valid life style choice. Nevertheless he offers them respect though a real choice: nobody can do this  for them, although if they accept the challenge they may succeed. Nothing is guaranteed, nobody can succeed for them, but the specialist Court gives them their best chance.

Neither the Judge, nor the bishops have got it all right. Both are venturing outside of their traditional roles. Both are motivated by a combination of compassion and informed practicality. We should welcome the good that can come out of it, yet this can only happen if we too fully engage with the process.

There is much to approve in the Bishop’s initiative, yet also a strand of paternalism and trust in the benefits State intervention that many find jarring, especially when they look at our own past and the French present.

Sir Nicholas seems to have struck the balance rather better.

Help is offered – but accompanied by realistic expectation.

Personal responsibility is not overlooked.

Bad destructive values are bluntly challenged.

Resources are targeted in a timely manner, but contractually based, and for carefully defined purpose.

There is compassion, but not indulgent sentimentality.

It is a blend of optimism, tempered by real world experience.

With a Judges talent for succinct communication Sir Nicholas can also encapsulate his thinking in considerably less than 52 pages, Our Bishops might do well to learn by this example.

Dear Stephen Fry……

I am sorry it has taken me a few days before I felt able to address your recent thoughts on the wickedness of God. Sometimes is is better to find the right words, rather than rush to response, and in these matters it is best to seek to encourage rather than confront or condemn.

I begin with a gentle ribbing.

Rejecting God is “so last century”.

It was prevalent after the First World War, the Holocaust and the AIDS epidemic, that makes it neither wrong per se, nor unsayable. We Christians gave up burning folk for blasphemy a long time ago. It does mean it is not exactly a ground breaking point of view.

Biblical scholars will tell you that in the earliest days of the formation of Christian thelogy, we had the Gnostics insisting that only a nasty evil cosmic presence could explain the creation of the world as we see it. Centuries before that, Job’s comforters urged the suffering man to ” Curse God and die”; so you see, you stand in a long rejectionist tradition. Indeed if I may be mischievous, I might say that it really is not like you to be so quotidian.

Faith in the loving God,  announced in the Gospels has nevertheless persisted, indeed it has long outlasted all of those who advanced your view, and will surely survive your scorn. Few things are as certain in life.

Yet that is not to dismiss your critique: already, the internet is awash with Christians empathising with your anger. I hope you find their lack of anger encouraging. Some of those with deep faith have the deepest troubles of their own, Many of them are are intellectually able and well entitled to see the point you make yet  find nothing in the philosophy you promote.

When one contemplates the difficulties and tragedies, seemingly hard wired into the very fabric of existence, most believers contemplate the impossibility of  belief in the loving Creator, yet the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard offered a helpful image, that of of the tightrope walker whose exploits also seem impossible to contemplate.

As Blondin stepped out to traverse Naiagra, every fibre of the rationalist’s being brought scepticism into play. Yet despite the ease with which the faithful can topple to either side, holding to the seemingly impossible happens everyday – before your very eyes! It does,of course, take devotion to practice and experience. If you can’t yet do it, the lesson might lie in that last sentence

You have doubtless encountered Ludwig Wittgenstein’s observation that sometimes all one can do with a truth is to ” show it”.

Like an Eschler drawing, one can either ” see ” it or one cannot. If one cannot, no amount of verbal explanation will make the revelation happen. Equally, no amount of verbal refutation will negate the truth that there is another way of Attachment-1“seeing the other”.

This is of course akin to paradox.

Your “rationalist friends ” live with paradox all the time, not least in the growing field of particle physics.

There are particles which can only be described with reference to their speed and location but whose nature cannot be grasped simultaneously by measurement. When they have speed they have no position, when they have position they have no speed. They might even “be” in two places at once. Science is confirming what religion has always asserted. Existence isn’t always as it straightforwards as it seems. Sometimes within a “rational system, there are nevertheless apparent unexplainable “contradictions”. Quantuum physics are not currently compatible with Newtonian physics as you probably appreciate. We are not clever enough yet to reconcile the two.

It can be the same with religion.

Remember that it was the religious mind that first spoke of the rationally impossible truth – The beginning and end of time, the fundamental link between light, energy, and matter, and not least the beginning of a colossal universe exploding in an instant of “coming into being from a single point” out of nothingness.

When the Big Bang theory was first articulated – by Catholic priest the atheist scientists and philosophers were both sceptical and outraged. God was back in the game -with a bang!

Bertrand Russell thought he had packed all that “moment of Creation” nonsense away when he identified that if God had always existed, why not the steady state universe? Well, that didn’t last did it? Russell was the sort of smart rationalist that folk admire and some see when they look at you, though you are much more modest about your own limitations.

The notion of a ” beyond-ness ” to our intellectual capacity, may offend those habituated to being able to out-think their fellows in many spheres of life, but smart religious folk become reconciled to this.

I touch on these issues to make the point that philosophical rationalism isn’t always what it is cracked up to be. This is as true in the moral as the physical fields of conjecture.

If I were to offer you a starting point to this way of overcoming your doubts and anger, there are two places you might consider starting. The first is linguistic.

You tell us that cannot understand = or tolerate- a God who allows bad things to happen as a corollary to allowing us freedom to be who we chose.

I often invite people to consider that word ” under stand”. In once sense it implies intellectual mastery, which you are familiar with and perhaps overly wedded to.

There is a another idea within the word – to “stand under”.

In this sense we place ourselves under the paradigm and examine from within.

Consider, perhaps what you make if a tree from a distance, and then how different it appears when you stand close to its mighty trunk, under its boughs and taking in its nature from that very different perspective. Understanding in this light is like the Eschler drawings I spoke of earlier. The same material, yet radically reformed in our mind by a different “understanding”.

The God revealed by Christ is equally complex: you can ” see ” the God of the text but do not forget that it was the failings and inadequacy of that textual interaction with humankind which caused Him to take a different  approach.

Christ is God incarnate, entering his world to redeem it, by example, from within.

NB ” by example” not by “text”, laws, or institutions.

This is why Christ’s earliest disciples talked not of being Christians but of being    ” followers of the Way “. If that sounds a bit Zen – I can live with that.

So it is, that we, His followers struggle, as you do, with paradox.

The Creator of the Universe – incarnated as a baby:
The law giver who will not condemn the woman taken in adultery
The One who only promises one person salvation, and who was that ? – The repentant thief who does absolutely nothing to deserve it save to acknowledge his just punishment and look to Christ for mercy.

So you see, we strange Christian folk are every bit as odd as you think. We know that we cannot think our way to what we rather grandiosely call ” salvation” neither can we earn it. It arrives by that curiosity that we call Grace which arrives at the most unexpected times.

I know you are a fan of Oscar Wilde, and have doubtless read his deeply moving work ”  De Profoundis”, written at the end when all the wit, notoriety, style, adulation had passed. Do go back and read it again.

I know you have written humbly and movingly about wrestling with your own demons. Wilde found that it was only when all that had passed along with his fame and fortunes that the truth of Christ’s love and grace slipped out unexpectedly from behind everything he had formerly valued, including his own formidable intellect. You may find the same.

It was the parable of the Prodigal Son that caught Wilde’s imagination; only when all was lost, when he was at his wit’s end and at his most bereft that he stopped doing things his way, and went back to “under-stand” his father love. He found it was greater than he realised, was totally beyond all rational explanation, and easier that he dared dream. He found the tight rope of faith a safe path to acceptance.

Wilde may be the one who shows you the way. There are many others.

Being with people of faith will teach you more than any debate or disputation.

When brother Ivo finds himself perplexed -especially when his Christian brothers and sisters muddy the waters with their disputations, he tends to retrace his steps to the simplest formulations of faith which might be a helpful starting point to “under-standing”.

His personal favourite  comes from another turbulent controversialist who sometimes despaired of the over confident.

The former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkin,s was once the byword for theological troublemaking. You dear Stephen, are a mere novice at it.

Bishop David boiled his faith down to a 14 word Creed which you might try contemplating after re-discovering ” De Profundis”.

“God is
He is as He is in Jesus Christ
So there is hope”

Assuring you of my kindest regards and prayers

Brother Ivo

Is our diversity only skin deep?

The choice of Lennie Henry to guest edit the flagship BBC radio programme Today inevitably brought the question of diversity into the public mind.

He is a much loved figure, amiable, “just like us”, and an excellent ambassador for “the Black Country” in both senses of the word.

You can’t not like Lennie.

If you looked for an example of an integrated person, in some ways different but in most ways not, it is hard to think of anyone better to choose.

Nevertheless, given a full , open choice of issues to explore, this very English man of colour felt it appropriate to go back to issues of diversity and exclusion. That was his right and his choice, but it is interesting that he felt obliged to look primarily  in that direction rather than others; he identified with exclusion even though he has been as well embraced as anyone you might care to name.

Brother Ivo has lived long enough to have seen much change in this regard.

His own mother spoke of her fear of seeing the first black man in herstreet in the North of England, the children fleeing,  lest he take them back to wherever he might have come from.

She was not initially comfortable around such strangers. She was troubled when the teenage Brother Ivo and a friend brought home a very pretty girl of Indian origin, yet to her credit she later  learnt her own similarity with people of difference by badinage, whilst buying dress making materials from an Indian young man in the local market. Shared interests bridged  cultural gaps

When she saw the fervour of dislike amongst some parts of the community with the early rise of the National Front,  she confronted her own discomfort and by an act of will put it aside, for which Brother Ivo always admired her.

If you have never felt difficulty with difference, you have no claim to virtue in espousing tolerance.

Listening to Lennie Henry exploring issues such as the numerical disparity of BME managers in professional football, the problems of securing more ethnic minority MPs and black authors breaking out of their traditionally niche subject areas, Brother Ivo began thinking about another side of the  diversity coin.

We regard ourselves as tolerant towards a diverse society because most of our major towns and cities have a variety of cultures in situ and  readily visible, with Dreadlocks, Turbans, and Hijabs abounding, but does that really tell us much?

Happily we have relatively little racial tension and no “rivers of blood” yet if we drill down looking for hard data,  how is the mutuality of acceptance really playing out?

Brother Ivo would have found it very interesting to hear not from those who have been motivated to integrate but rather to hear from those who have not yet done so.

Diane Abbott, Sajid Javid, Amjad Basir MEP and Chris Hughton had important and interesting stories to tell, and yet they are all people who have moved towards the values of the “indigenous community”: the story of those communities which are more inward looking is less explored. and it is a shame that Lennie did not go there.

That surely is the story that truly needs to be explored.

Brother Ivo was moved to explore this thought when he recalled a discussion he recently had with a colleague from another Church who sought his help in locating somebody willing and able to facilitate conversations within his own Church which had a number of people from a specific African region.

The colleague had made a mistake and did not want to compound it. He also had a problem, which he explained.

When he found people from the same country gravitating to his church he thought it was  a good idea to promptly introduce the newcomers to each other and expected that alone to be a successful strategy.

He had not appreciated the tribal dimension.

He soon learnt that there were plainly issues that he did not know and yet they were issues which his congregation did not feel comfortable discussing with him. They feared he might disapprove of their reservations and so, he was effectively excluded from a dimension of his own ministry. He may have been all for diversity and yet found that he needed needed  informed specialist help to penetrate the cultural issues that were holding back fellowship. Brother Ivo was able to suggest a source of such assistance.

There was another problem.

His new congregation members were very supportive of the Church. If he wanted simple things done his requests were met with enthusiasm yet those tasks embraced  tended to be of a more menial capacity. Recruiting people to join the PCC, to become Treasurers or Church Wardens had never been successful. He was concerned by this.

He did not want outsiders to speculate about racial glass ceilings. He was genuinely bothered that he was unable to extend his opportunities with this new generation of worshipers. There may be to be a very prosaic answer. The new immigrants may be young, have working long hours, have family commitments in other towns; in that they may be no different from other young people with too much to do, yet he cannot be sure.

It is these conversations that need to be had. It does take two to tango.

Brother Ivo shall be seeing him again in a couple of months and will be interested to see see how he is getting on with the support suggested.

The story from this local Church is the kind that does not reach the media.

There are many new cultures and communities now in the UK. Some are still not wholly comfortable with the language and the culture. With 4 million newcomers in the last decade, it would be highly unlikely that all the potential issues of integration will have even  yet been identified, let alone solved.

We should, as a larger community be keen to ensure that ours in not an exclusionary culture; In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free male or female. Yet the British have tended to be a pragmatic people relying on evolutionary practice rather than grand schemes of intellectual design. THis is both a blessing and a curse.

Seeing diversity on the street it may look ordinary enough, yet until we know and understand the various communities – and not least how they inter-react one with another – any declaration of diversity having been easily achieved is premature.

It may be too early to “celebrate diversity” not because we should not aspire to it, but simply because our success is greeted prematurely. Integrating  two  communities is of a different order of magnitude than integrating forty or a hundred. in many ways we have not yet begun.

Lennie Henry did a good job, but he skimmed the real depth of the problem

It will take time for so much diversity to bed down: the problems are exponentially complex and not exclusively caused by the “indigenous majority” – howsoever one defines it.

We can, however take a degree of comfort that the vast majority of folk do want to see this happen peacefully and naturally.

We in the Churches have an important role in facilitating acceptance on all sides, but we will help nobody if we allow the problem to be defined in the one dimension of indigenous intolerance only.

 

 

Pope Francis addresses the EU

If you have not yet had an opportunity of reading Pope Francis’ address to the EU it is well worth reading .

In some ways the circumstances in which it was delivered are not too dissimilar to the address of Archbishop Justin to the General Synod of the Church of England. Each knew that their words would be carefully scanned and analysed for hidden meaning, each was speaking in a context of underlying tension and  for both there was a modicum of anxiety about how the future of the institution which was being addressed would unfold.

Each, in the event, delivered addresses of interest, breadth, and inspiration with no lack of diplomatic expertise.

After warm greeting, acknowledgement of historical context and appreciation, Pope Francis rooted his address to the primary task of the pastor – to offer encouragement and support.

With due acknowledgement of differences in history, and no little cultural diversity, he identified human rights as most  important, thereby ensuring that none could fail to find a starting point for agreement. Human dignity is dependent on the basic human rights and the meeting of basic needs, which must be accorded to all before anything more complex is attempted. Few could disagree so he had his audience “on side” at an early stage.

He then embraced the complex. Invoking the concept of the Monad – which surely left many in his audience struggling in his wake  –  but he he clarified his thinking immediately, speaking of the importance of duties, the complexity of societal relationships, and the common good.

” Unless the rights of each of individual are harmoniously ordered to the greater good, those rights will end up being considered limitless, and consequently will become a source of conflicts and violence”.

This seemed a shot across the bows of the aggressively secular or libertarian.

Reading that, Brother Ivo could not help but think of  Archbishop Justin’s words to the Synod the preceding week.

He too had paid tribute to the flourishing of the community which he addressed and he also described Anglicanism as “incredibly diverse” noting that with that diversity came tension,  which could only be held in bounds  with discipline and regard for those with whom we disagree.

“There is a prize of being able able to develop unity in diversity and also with deeper and deeper ecumenical relations demonstrating the power of Christ to break down barriers and to provide hope for a broken world”.

They may not have been singing from the same hymn sheet but the same tune was immediately recognisable to those who were reading and considering both addresses.

Bother were saying that recognising the value of “the other” is the sine qua non of expressing Christ’s love in the world even as we acknowledge sincere differences.

The same problem afflicts multi national institutions and multi-facetted Established Churches.

He did not stay for long on the comfortable territory but soon moved into ” the debatable lands”. One cannot expect a Jesuit to have much time for moral relativism.

We all have within us a “Compass deep in our hearts” . We can distinguish right from wrong and can see our own value within relationships with other peoples. Holding to , and presumably acting, upon that impulse for relationship, is necessary for us  to avoid the loneliness that afflicts many in modern society.

A challenge is there for all neighbours; neglecting the lonely is wrong.

He sees the recent  economic crisis as contributing to that loneliness in society; he also sees a link to our mistrust of institutions.

In this part of the address Brother Ivo struggles to find linkage. The two observations may be right, but if the cause has a common root it is not well developed. Is not there a certain camaraderie amongst the critics of EU institutions? Mr Farage and Signor Grillo may be many things, but they shows few signs of lonely  isolation from the wider community!

That part of the address perhaps needed to be more clearly explained or the ideas simply left separated.

He might have been better to have expressed the problem less in terms of loneliness but anger and distrust, both of the institutions and of those to whom he later turns, the migrant,

Before he gets there he describes Europe as wearying and ageing, even likening it to a a grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant.

Dialogue permits amiable challenge.

Whilst it may be true that those countries within monetary union are struggling with vastly divergent economic needs,  the Southern nations suffering particularly through linkage with the German economy, it is plain that the British economic model serves as both a model for the value of monetary freedom and as the ” go to destination” for many migrants. They at least do not view her as feeble and the principle aspects of “grand-motherl-yness” shared by the UK would appear to be generosity, welcome and largesse.

He critiques selfish opulent life styles, which he sees as necessarily causing abandonment of the poor. He has a point, but not an overwhelming one.

One of the more intriguing pieces of recent news was the fact that a majority of Britain’s new multi- millionaires are self made. Given that to achieve such cohort supremacy, they would have had to exceed the numbers of European rich re-locating to the UK to avoid levels of penal taxation as attempted in countries such as France, their prospering is perhaps cheering and significant.

New money is perhaps more healthy than old money and not to be despised. Talents are God given for a purpose.

To become “self made” these folk will have created economic activity along the way. It is that activity that will have made work for Polish plumbers, Spanish Dentists, and Czech engineers.

One does not have to approve tasteless conspicuous consumption to appreciate that  there is a reason that the UK is the destination of choice for many migrants on the move. The British economic model has much to commend it even if the construction of the new Jerusalem for all, is still a work in progress.

In the First World War cartoon of of Bruce Bairnfather , two grubby Tommies sit in a shell hole, the one challenging the complaining other –  “If you know a better ‘ole – go to it”. The UK for all its faults and unfinished business is probably one of  the best of not too bad a bunch, considering the world wide options.

One might therefore have liked  His Holiness to have referenced the successful entrepreneurs with a little more of the encouragement and support with which he began his address. Many have achieved success precisely because they looked after their workforce as he would like.

The Pontiff invites the members of the European Union Parliament to tend to the needs of the individuals and people. With due respect to His Holiness, it may be the very eagerness to tend to everything that is the problem with the European legislators, rather than the prospective solution! The needs of the continental peoples may be for the bureaucrats to show greater willingness to step aside. It is, after all,  the only major trading bloc struggling to generate economic growth, and this is happening under the stewardship of those he was addressing.

Holy men often like to discomfort the comfortable. Europe’s elite are very comfortable.

Coming from a Latin American country with a past touched by Liberation Theology it is inevitable that Pope Francis would speak with generosity towards the poor and the migrant and we must hear him for the truths he brings and the principles he identifies; the practicalities and best structures to lift the condition of the marginalised are, however, still a matter under consideration.

One is not surprised to hear him seeking to regenerate the confidence of the young.

That is a great thing, many are anxious for their futures.

They are unlikely however, to be much lifted by the promise that bureaucrats will get around to sorting their problems out in due course. The energy of the young will best be unleashed by giving them the conditions in which to find their own salvation, yet having said that , there is no reason to assume that they will not be able to marry that with a proper respect for the truths which the Pope points to when he is speaking within his realm of primary expertise.

Using an image from a Raphael picture in the Vatican the Pope is on stronger ground, calling us to be open to the transcendent God whilst connected to the concrete reality of the everyday world.

He connects his audience to practicality when he  identifies the God given rights of Man for religious freedom to the modern world in which they are routinely breached.

He greatly values democracy, no doubt recalling living in a country where it was subverted. He sees that as the context within which talents may flourish. He no less values the family in which both young and old are properly nurtured .

Educational institutions are mentioned with a reminder that they must be more than conduits of technical expertise, and he broadens his address by speaking of the need for Europe to play its part in the preservation of ecological diversity.

He wants employment prospects to be lifted, and respect for the labourer to characterise how s/he is treated in the workplace. He identifies the need to combine market flexibility with stability and job security which will enable workers to grow stable families and educate their children. This aspect of the thinking in the speech is connected.

There is breadth in his consideration of migration, as he not only seeks to ensure a fair and proper welcome for those who migrate, but is not blind to the losses to their the countries of origins when talented people move. He did not call for greater free trade with an opening of the EU markets to enable southern economies to trade and retain their peoples, but the implication is there for those who want to argue it.

On the day Zac Goldmith rejected the watered down Government version of a Recall Bill for failed politicians, His Holiness remarked that ” the more the power men and women increases, the greater is individual and collective responsibility – I encourage you to work to make Europe rediscover the best of itself.’

Brother Ivo should be interested to overhear a conversation on accountability between Mr Goldsmith and His Holiness. it was probably not in his mind as he wrote that section but the identification of good principles will often have unlooked for application to passing events.

The speech was constantly reconnecting with the Christian teachings, challenging Mankind to fulfil the destiny which God shaped for him/her.

He offered a vision of a Europe which contemplates the heavens and pursues lofty ideals. A Europe which cares for defends and protects man, every man and woman. A Europe which bestrides the earth surely and securely, a precious point of reference for all humanity”

Offering reference points for humanity was the common theme in both Church leaders addresses. Pope Francis invited the EU to one such reference point, ArchBishop Justin offered the same challenge to the Anglican Communion.

Managing unity in diversity is plainly the theological flavour of the month – and it is none the worse for that.

Whether our individual clergy and politicians are up to the challenge set by two greater leaders and carers for their flocks is something we shall have to watch with interest.